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General Manager John Catoe

Transcript: November 6, 2009

General Manager John Catoe photo

Metro General Manager John Catoe will respond directly to questions about Metro-related issues during an online chat this Friday, November 6, when he hosts "Metro LunchTalk Online" - a live hour-long chat from noon to 1 p.m. Catoe welcomes questions about Metrobus, Metrorail and MetroAccess during his chats.

General Manager John Catoe:

Earlier this week a 37-year-old power distribution unit at our headquarters building failed, and that caused a number of communication disruptions.
Among the things affected by this on Wednesday were NextBus, e-Alerts, elements of customer call center services, the public address system in the rail stations, the ability to use a debit card to pay for fare media, communications between the Bus and MetroAccess operations control centers and their vehicles, the online MetroAccess reservation system, Metro’s web site, and the SmartBenefits download function. These systems were up by 3:30 p.m. that day, and we have an interim fix in place. At no time were there any operational safety issues associated with the outage.

However, this does really highlight the need Metro has for new capital funding. The permanent fix for this problem is the replacement of the power distribution unit that failed, along with other essential infrastructure equipment. It will cost $14 million and is now one of our most urgent needs. That list of needs, our capital needs inventory, is a long, but very important list. This list of capital needs adds up to about $11 billion over the next ten years, and events like Wednesday’s take those needs from the abstract to the real world very quickly. In the coming months, you will hear more and more about our capital needs inventory and how vital it is that Metro have a new funding agreement to replace the Metro Matters funding agreement, which has been funding major system maintenance and expires next year. We will need everyone’s support to craft a new agreement and ensure we can take action to prevent the failure of old equipment in the future.


Arlington, VA: How does Metro not have redundant systems for critical infrastructure? A single power outage can take down nearly all of Metro's communications infrastructure (including even communication with Metro vehicles)? Similar to a single track circuit that may have caused a catastrophic collision. It really makes this rider wonder what other aspects of Metrorail that are a single incident away from major trouble.

Reply: Hi Arlington. We do have redundancy in the critical operational systems. However, in the design of this system decades ago, redundancy was not built in. We have plans to rectify that. The issue becomes one of priorities. It was an item on our priority list. It just so happened that it failed before we got to it. We now have it on an agenda to go to our Board for approval later this month.


Washington , DC: How long is Metro going to continue "bellying" the 1000-series cars? The jerky, shaky, and sometimes jolting braking and acceleration of these composite trains is not what I would describe as the "best ride in the nation."

Reply: Hello Washington. We have received bids for new rail cars. The Senate and House have approved $150 million for capital funding, which we will use toward the replacement of those 1000 Series vehicles. It will take several years to replace all of them.


Laurel, MD: Express service to Greenbelt Metro from Laurel is often late or missing during rush hour. What will be done to improve this service prior to the proposed expansion of metrorail and the ICC to this area?

Reply: Hi Laurel. I'll refer this to the head of Bus Operations to follow up on the service issue.


Washington, DC: Dear John: What happened to your small fleet of Orion IIs? They were used on my local route (M4) for a long time, but then a few months ago, they dissapered. Now, in their place, are the Orion Vs. Where did they go?

Reply: They were phased out because they had a 10-year life cycle and began to be replced this year in 2009. Some of these 26-footers were replaced with new 37-foot and existing 40-foot buses. We also needed a few more seats for growing ridership. They were originally purchased at the request of the District of Columbia for use in the neighborhoods, and interestingly enough they were a little louder than other buses, and that generated complaints.


Glenmont, MD: Mr. Catoe, the situation in both Kiss and Ride lots at Glenmont has not changed since last month's chat. There are vehicles parked in A spots all day (including WMATA employees) which are not supposed to be anything but 15 minute spots. In addition people are parked in the metered spots all the time during both rush hour periods when the signs clearly point out that parking during those times is not allowed. It's a safety issue for those getting picked up and dropped off, not to mention a revenue issue as people aren't paying for the meters either while parked in the spots. Please do something about this.

Reply: Hello Glenmont. Thanks for staying on top of it. I will talk with the Metro Transit Police Chief immediately after this chat to make sure that the police are aware and are following up with proper enforcement.


Vienna, VA: Dear Mr. Catoe,Thanks for doing this chat. I'd like to ask about something that I'm sure many Metrorail riders have noticed: Even with service restored after the accident, things are still rather rocky. Trains bunch up, or get very far apart. For example, there have frequently been 8 or 10 minute gaps between trains on the Red Line during rush hour. Or, trains pile up at the end of the line, so five or 10 minutes can be spent waiting for a platform to clear. Or trains travel slowly, so that trips take much longer. Then, of course, there is the jerkiness of operation that's been widely noted. What's going on? Things should be better, but they're not. Is this due to manual operation? It wasn't this bad that time a number of years ago, when trains were on extended manual operation. What gives? Thank you.

Reply: Hi Vienna. Because we are continuing in manual mode, it makes it more difficult for our trains to maintain the exact headways that we are able to maintain during automatic mode. So for example if it takes 60 minutes to go from one end of the line to another during automatic operations, it may take 65 to go from end-to-end in manual mode. Also, we've mixed old cars with new cars in one train "consist," and that contributes somewhat to the less than smooth ride we've all become accustomed to.


Brookland, DC: Good afternoon. I would like to suggest that Metro raise fares to help with the budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. Bus fare in Chicago and New York is $2ride the same for Detroit! DC is no worse off than Detroit. Instead of cutting service, please raise fares and provide good service... as the saying goes - you get what you pay for.

Reply: Hi Brookland. Right now we are having a series of four public forums throughout the region. (One more to go.) Your comment is consistent with what we are hearing with those who have attended the forums. The comments/recommendations that we are receiving from the public will be incorporated into my proposed budget that I will present to the Board in December for consideration.


Atlanta, GA: Hello Mr Catoe,With the expansion of the Metro system increase in ridership, do you forsee a significant increase in Metro Tranit Police manpower?...and if so when?Thank You,Ray

Reply: Hello Ray of Atlanta. We do have a planned expansion of about 20 officers funded by a federal grant, however it will be about a year before they are deployed due to recruitment and training timelines. Our officers receive extensive training since they have law enforcement powers in three jurisdictions--DC, MD and VA.


Alexandria, VA: Has Metro done any research on hybrid electric buses utilizing Capstone Microturbines? One company, Designline Bus offers a hybrid bus powered by this unique powerplant.

Reply: Hello Alexandria. We have several hybrid electric buses in our fleet. The specifics of the way it is powered I do not know off of the top of my head. If you're a vendor, contact our Procurement Department. If you have other info you want to send me, feel free to do so at 600 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.


Washington, DC: Hello, Sir,I have some inter-related questions about the buses.It is impossible to read the posted bus schedules after sundown because there is no lighting near them. Could this be remedied? When the 30s line expanded, a nice new display was erected and the schedules for the new buses were put up at Dupont Circle along Mass Ave NW -- but the other bus schedules, for the N2, N4, N6 and L2, were taken down! Would you please restore them?Last, it is getting harder and harder to wait for the bus: First the nice wooden benches were replaced with narrow, segmented metal benches. Now even those benches are being removed at some stops, so we have to stand. And with as much as 40 minutes between buses at times, that is one long, uncomfortable wait. Would you please give us back our seats? Thank you so much for taking the time to respond.

Reply: Hello Washisngton. As you have observed, we do not provide electricity or lighting at all of the bus stops. That's expensive. Actually, most bus shelters are owned by the jurisdictions in which they are used. This goes for the benches in the bus shelters as well. Bus shelter upgrades are the responsibility of the jurisdiction. Perhaps in the future, as they are replaced, we can work with them to encourage solar powered bus shelters/bus stops. That would be ideal.


Arlington, VA: Good afternoon - I have a question regarding the upcoming changes to SmartBenefits. Do we know yet what will happen to the current balances on our SmarTrip cards? For instance, if I have a $100 balance on the card beginning Jan 1, what "purse" will that money go into?Thank you!

Reply: Hi Arlington. I see a few questions about SmartBenefits here in the queue. Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard a lot of comments from customers about this change in SmartBenefits. I've decided that we need to rethink the changes that we are making. At this point I do not have any new details to share. I hope to be able to provide more detail about the program in the coming weeks that will be able to clarify these sorts of questions. Rest assured, I have heard what people have to say and your comments will be taken into account as we develop the plan moving forward.


Lawrenceville, GA: It will really be hard for some of us to see the 1000 Series go! They were there from the beginning! I do hope some will go to museums. Maybe you could even put one on display at Metro headquarters...

Reply: Hi Lawrenceville. Sounds like you'd like one for a holiday gift in the future! Actually, I'd like to see one go to a museum as well.


Washington, DC: Why does Metro run so many 6 car trains during rush hour and why don't you do a better job at making connecting trains when one line is running slow due to malfunctions

Reply: Hi Washington. We don't have enough trains or enough electric power to operate all trains as eight-car trains. As part of our capital plan, we want to upgrade power and purchase more cars as the demand increases.


Washington, DC: Has WMATA compiled an accident report, or investigation report regarding the June 22 crash yet?

Reply: Hi Washington. The National Transportation Safety Board has the lead responsibility to investigate and communicate facts regarding the accident. We are part of their investigation group. We are prohibited by federal law from communicating information. It must come from the NTSB.


Washington, DC: My neighbors wants an additional bus stop near us so we don't have to walk so far. Who should we ask? Would it help to put together a petition?Thank you.

Reply: Hello Washington. We have about 12,000 bus stops and actually we are looking at the utilization of the stops and the possibility of removing a few of them. Basically the jurisdictions have the responsibility of locating stops, so I recommend that you contact the Dept. of Transportation for the District of Columbia. I encourage you to look on line the week of November 16th where we will post a presentation that is planned to go before our Board about bus stops and bus stop designs.


General Manager John Catoe:
Thanks for being here with us this afternoon, and I hope you’ll be here again next month. Before I go, I’d like to mention that there will be track work on the Blue/Yellow and Orange lines this weekend. There are also a number of buses that will be re-routed due to construction and a marathon. You can find out more at

Also, you can load your SmarTrip® card at 42 more Giant Food stores. There are now more than 150 local retail outlets that allow you to reload their SmarTrip® cards, with cash, debit or credit cards. There’s more information at

Have a good weekend.

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